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It gets better

A local take on the national project to save gay youth

Photo: Photos by Carlos Amoedo, License: N/A

Photos by Carlos Amoedo

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I was sexually abused by my father from the time I was 4 til I was 13, so I never doubted that it was normal for guys to be affectionate with each other. In a way, I was already out at an early age – I wanted to play with other kids the same way I was played with. When I finally told my mom I was gay [at 17], her first words were: ‘Can you get out of it?’ As if I were in the mafia or something. My brother liked to embarrass me in front of other family members that I hadn’t come out to: ‘Did you know Mack’s queer?’ In high school in Newton [near Boston], I was constantly made fun of – ‘faggot, queer,’ the typical stuff. They’d gang up on me; ask me favors in return for not getting bullied even more.

I didn’t really have friends in high school, but when I got older and started making friends downtown, it got easier. Nothing was allowed when I was a kid – it was still taboo. Even going to a bar, you couldn’t dance [with another guy]. It was illegal. On Sunday nights, if you wore a red sweater, there was one bar that would let you go down in the basement and dance for awhile. You danced for an hour, then they’d close it up, and everybody’d go back up to the bar, hang around and pretend again. Some of the bars would have lights up in the corners to let you know that the vice squad was coming in. When the lights went on, everybody would stop, and we underage kids would go out the back door. You had to keep everything hush-hush – this was still before [the] Stonewall [riots], which started gay pride.

As I got older, everything just kind of fell in place. I got jobs in bars; I was a cute little thing, so I had no problem getting jobs as a bartender. Meanwhile, things got better and better legally. Now it’s so much easier; there’s so much available to anybody that’s coming out to get help. There was nothing when I was growing up. Nothing. We relied on going to a bar to meet people like ourselves. So for today’s kids: hang in there, talk to your family. Worst case scenario? You move away to a more friendly place.

Billy Manes, 38

staff writer, Orlando Weekly

I can’t remember whether I ever had the chance to realize I was gay or not. Sure, there were the wide-eyed telltale signs – the Ken Doll, the angel outfits, the proclivity toward choral programs – but there was always a vicious noise grinding beneath the public desire to please, drowning out both nature and nurture. Away from the extracurricular machinations of church and school, I was a wreck. A certain family member a few years my senior was quickly turning playtime into a shameful hell. I’m pretty sure it all started around the age of 8. What began as a sort of sexual pantomime mimicking the coital thrusts of my single mother and her boyfriend (and whatever else was on HBO) quickly escalated into something altogether more sinister. By the age of 10 I was already skipping school to stay home and play seductress; ‘humping’ we called it, and it was the most attention I ever had from anyone.

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